3 Galleries.

At the end of last week I found myself visiting 3 galleries in less than 24 hours. Each visit had a musical dimension:

The Horse Hospital. X-Ray Audio. I read about this in the Guardian in the morning and discovered that I was already too late to get tickets for the planned performance but I thought it would be worthwhile to drop by. When I got there they were setting up for the evening and trying out a couple of odd-looking discs – both from Ukraine. One was a 7” transparent red flexi with an illustration of a swan in a pond…the audio was a cheesy folk song…this one had to be taped onto the deck to stop it from slipping. The second was a postcard disc…it looked like it was of a painting of an old church in Kiev and the pirated audio was the Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’…

good v_edited-1

Here is a scan of the beer mat of one of the Soviet era records cut onto an x-ray plate:



Drawing Room. Chromosome Damage Listening Session. This should have been really interesting. The artist of the current show, Daniel Guzmán, had selected a bunch of records that he listens to while he works in his studio in Mexico City to be played in the gallery. These were to be combined with some music from his own band, Pellejos. I liked the idea of listening to the music while looking at the drawings. For some reason only 3 people were present at the event and this took the edge off the whole thing. Still, I heard Jorge Reyes for the first time…


White Cube, Bermondsey. David Toop at the Christain Marclay exhibition. The second gig in a series of performances in the gallery. This is a generous undertaking on both Marclay’s and the gallery’s part. Toop’s considered and exploratory sound making and his fragile delineation of a ‘stage’ drew the audience into an intense dialogue with the space and the music despite the austere surroundings of the White Cube white cube.

The audience

The audience


David Toop in performance.

David Toop in performance.

’49 Americans’ + 3 Americans



49 Americans, Café Oto, 4th May 2013.

Fol Chen, Shacklewell Arms, 5th May 2013.


Some points:

  1. Though there are a lot of them, 49 Americans are not what they seem…not even a band according to David Toop. (“Think of The 49 Americans as a band, in the conventional sense, and you’re lost.”) Maybe there have been 49 members since their inception…who knows? Tonight there are about 20 of them.
  2. The 3 Americans are really three Americans though. From Los Angeles, Cailfornia.
  3. Andrew ‘Giblet’ Brenner, the 49 American’s moving force, used this as a throw away line between numbers: ‘We are the 49 Americans…people playing at playing music.’
  4. How did it come about that Fol Chen got Brian Cox to do a spoken word version of ‘In Ruins’(‘A message from the subcommittee for public safety’)? ‘The bonfires are blocking the streets tonight…’
  5. As far as I can tell the 49 Americans have reformed tonight (for one night?) to launch the recently re-released albums ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and ‘We Know Nonsense’.
  6. How does it make sense for a 3 piece (there are more of them really…but tonight they are a 3 piece) twisted-pop band from California to play a gig in the sleazy back room of a hipster pub in Dalston – for free? After the gig I put this question to the singer, she said: ‘Don’t ask..’.
  7. The 49 Americans play damaged rather than twisted music. They are all ‘proper’ musicians who have not/hardly rehearsed. But beautiful moments of synchronous funk emerge nevertheless.
  8. Fol Chen, on the other hand, play things that they have clearly been working on but in an off-hand, devil-may-care and also exhilarating way.
  9. The 49 Americans have two special guests who are kind of in the not-band but who are also apart from them. Leafcutter John provides some tasty electronic noises and Alice Grant sings…at one point they assemble a song from lines chosen at random form 49 American titles.
  10. Fol Chen have got a singer, a drummer and a guitarist and some electronic backing tracks to fill-in vital twiddly baroque  bits.
  11. Fol Chen have one red light slightly behind them and to the left. They play on a small raised stage with the drummer in an arched alcove at the back. For the last number the guitarist gets off the stage and plays in the audience looking back at the band. But this seems un-theatrical- as if he just wants to see what it might be like to be in the audience.
  12. At Oto, the 49 Americans had a bit more light than the audience though they were not lit in any conventional sense. They have long breaks between songs while the musicians re-arrange themselves.
  13. And 14. Consecutive nights in Dalston about a quarter of a mile apart. What makes the conditions for this to happen and for it all to seem quite ordinary?
    The 49 Americans

    The 49 Americans



Fol Chen

Fol Chen



















In and out of Touch

Touch 30. 5th & 6th December 2012






I don’t normally go to church…an occasional carol service and, once. the Pearly Kings and Queens Thanksgiving service at St Martin-in-the-Fields. But last week I found myself attending mass at the Church of the Holy Touch. This took place in a large cold room with a single ocular window at the Beaconsfield Arts Centre in Vauxhall, South London. I felt like a spy among the devotees who were attending a two-day celebration of thirty years of Touch.

Jon Wozencroft

Jon Wozencroft

Jon Wozencroft, the co-founder with Mike Harding, kicked off proceedings with an eloquent exposition of the Touch ethos talking about a triangular relationship between sound, the visual and the social of which this event was an expression. Sadly, the sound element of the next few hours let the equation down as various speakers struggled to be heard over the squeakiest floorboards I have ever experienced, the scraping of chairs and the low noise of trains passing immediately outside. All this felt rather ironic as the subject of much of the conversation was on the technicalities of dealing with recorded sound through mastering, changing formats and multi-channel playback. The more I heard of these discussions the more anxious I became and I wondered if anyone was going to rumble me as an imposter.

How do I listen to music? In the kitchen, through 2 cheap speakers, the sounds of the street creeping in, with a background of cooking noises and with occasional conversation interrupting. On an iPod through in-ear buds – never really isolated from external sound but insulated from it. On a computer through quite small powered speakers. On an evolved (rather than planned) hi-fi with ok components but with speakers positioned too high on top of bookshelves. The room in which this system is installed is the noisiest in the house. The sound from the road outside doesn’t just creep in here it crashes through the ill-fitting windows, a collage of traffic, human voices and sirens. In the car on a clapped-out cassette player. So I never hear recorded sound at home in anything like ‘ideal’ conditions. The formats for all these listening experiences are numerous: MP3 and all its digital cousins, 7” singles and LPs on vinyl, CDs, radio waves, cassettes and even, in extremis, shellac and, once in a blue moon, reel-to-reel tape. It is all whatever I can get my ears on.

As I sat in the big cubic room at Beaconsfield listening to the talks I thought back to the visit I made in the morning to Tate Britain on my way to the Touch event. I went to see and hear the Turner Prize winning installation by Elizabeth Price The Woolworths Choir of 1979. oints2It fuses sound in the form of a cut-up version of Out in the Streets by the Shangri-Las, finger clicks and hand claps with a series of still and moving images of gothic church architecture, 1960s girl groups and dancers and documentary footage from the fire in a Woolworths’ furniture shop in Manchester. These incongruous elements are edited together into a coherent and moving near-narrative and the sound is loud and immersive. This was the opposite of how I usually hear recorded music and, in its degree of scripting and control, at odds with how I experience most live music too.

Back at Beaconsfield the Touch events moved into another phase in the evening with performances in a brick-vaulted room situated immediately below the train tracks. This was the payback space for the big white echoing box upstairs where the talks had taken place. The pieces performed here were all punctuated by the sound of the trains passing overhead and this random element gave the performances an open-endedness that I had felt, with a different emphasis, in the Woolworths Choir installation. These moved from beautiful mixes of voice and cello (Hildur Gudnadottir) through a rich and elaborate turntable collage (Philip Jeck), a restrained and poignant audio-visual sequence (David Toop), a four-channel playback of field recordings (Chris Watson) to an immense ‘wall’ of effect and electric guitar (Fennesz).

Hildur Gudnadottir

Hildur Gudnadottir

David Toop

David Toop

Christian Fennesz

Christian Fennesz

So here was the culmination of the first day’s proceedings…something for both the faithful and the unbelievers. And on the second day (talks this time with amplification in the upstairs room and yet more enveloping sounds in the railway arch), Wozencroft ended the pilgrimage with a very lo-fi story of broadcasting on pirate radio in the 1980s with his friend Jon Savage and then launched into an improvised acapella version of Blue Monday. I felt this, at least, was in the spirit of my own listening habits.

Thomas Koner and audience on Night 2

Thomas Koner and audience on Night 2

And here’s one for Mickey Baker. 10. x. 25 – 27. xi. 12

Eight Drawings

1. Audience, Marilyn Crispell, Harrison Smith, Eddie Prévost. Cafe Oto, 7. xi. 12.

2. Supersilent. Arches, Glasgow, 15. xi. 12.

3. Supersilent. Arches, Glasgow, 15. xi. 12.

4. Swans. Arches, Glasgow, 16. xi. 12.

5. Swans. Arches, Glasgow, 16. xi. 12.

6. Michael Gira, Swans. Arches, Glasgow, 16. xi. 12.

7. Aki Onda. Village Underground, 18. xi. 12.

8. Mike Cooper, David Toop, Roger Turner. Cafe Oto, 23. xi. 12.

‘Star-shaped Biscuit’ – not a review.

‘Onibaba’. Frame from opening sequence

Devised, written and composed by David Toop. Performed at Snape Maltings, Suffolk (Latitude 52.1631, Longitude 1.4967), 19.30 – 21.00, September 15th 2012.

In the pre-performance talk for his kind-of opera Star-shaped Biscuit, David Toop expressed his frustration with the concert hall as a venue for live music. He made this statement in a beautiful cubed rehearsal room with a pyramidal roof. Just a few metres away were numerous custom-built concert halls. Outside to the south of the complex of buildings that make up Snape Maltings are the reed beds that stretch along the River Alde. As well as his antipathy to the concert hall, Toop remarked on the particular sound of the wind in the reeds and related that sound to the film Onibaba (Kaneta Shindo, 1964). In fact the sound of the wind and the reeds had been the first thing I had noticed about this place too. As we sat in the late afternoon enjoying the unexpected gift of mid-September sunshine this sound was so striking that I felt we were already in hyper-listening mode.

After the talk the audience were led out past the car park and the building site where new apartments are being built towards Derelict Building no. 9. The route took us down an alley with a series of detached arches at its end making a Piranesian space that was in contrast to the finish of the rest of the complex. Turning left we were led through a doorway underneath six bays of a factory structure of cast iron columns with two floors above us. Beyond this space was seating and above that, where the roof should have been, there was just the still-light early evening sky. The space was enclosed by high walls but most of the floors were gone and the ground was scattered with detritus – stacks of felled timber, pallets, two rusting cars, ruined agricultural equipment. In contrast to the stark tranquility of the reeds this was more like the territory of Tarkovsky and Stalker.

Now I know that the siting of the work is not the work itself. This was the first and only performance of this piece so far and it was made for this location. (Though it will, no doubt be remade for other places.) The work/the composition/the opera consisted of an electronic track (dubbed “the Tape’ by the performers), 5 improvising multi-instrumentalists playing live, 3 singers, minimal costumes and staging, a few props, lighting. I found the sound of the piece completely mesmerizing but I was also mesmerized by the particularity of that place and that time. The sky darkened and stars slowly became visible above our heads. Bats wheeled in and out of the space swooping low over the head of one of the singers. Large moths moved around in the lights, sometimes fluttering slowly through the space and sometimes moving with astonishing speed from one side to another in front of the performers. Near the end of the piece there was the single audible external intervention of an aeroplane passing high overhead. So these were unplanned parts of the work called Star-shaped Biscuit; weather, animals, technology all conspiring to work alongside or against the work, further opening out the possibilities of the experience. Of course it would be possible to reproduce at least some of these effects but this would change their nature…turning chance into the design. So the work was not just a fragmentary sung text and was not just a series of overlaid and unexpected sounds. Instead it was these things plus those unique events in that space – extending upwards into Space like Powers of Ten in reverse – and at that specific period of time.

Singers: Lore Lixenberg, Elaine Mitchener and Jamie McDermott.

Musicians: Martin Allen, Simon Allen, Hélène Breschand, Sylvia Hallett and Jan Hendrickse.